Given the recent restructuring at Mozilla, many teams have been affected by the layoff. Unfortunately, this includes the Mozilla Tech Speakers program. As one of the volunteers who’s been part of the program since the very beginning, I’d like to share some memories of the last five years, watching the Tech Speakers program grow from a small group of people to a worldwide community.
Mozilla Tech Speakers – a program to bring together volunteer contributors who are already speaking to technical audiences (developers/web designers/computer science and engineering students) about Firefox, Mozilla and the Open Web in communities around the world. We want to support you and amplify your work!
It all started as an experiment in 2015 designed by Havi Hoffman and Dietrich Ayala from the Developer Relations team. They invited a handful of volunteers who were passionate about giving talks at conferences on Mozilla-related technologies and the Open Web in general to trial a program that would support their conference speaking activities, and amplify their impact. That’s how Mozilla Tech Speakers were born.
It was a perfect symbiosis. A small, scrappy Developer Relations team can’t cover all the web conferences everywhere, but with help from trained and knowledgeable volunteers that task becomes a lot easier. Volunteer local speakers can share information at regional conferences that are distant or inaccessible for staff. And for half a decade, it worked, and the program grew in reach and popularity.
Those volunteers, in return, were given training and support, including funding for conference travel and cool swag as a token of appreciation.
From the first cohort of eight people, the program grew over the years to have more than a hundred of expert technical speakers around the world, giving top quality talks at the best web conferences. Sometimes you couldn’t attend an event without randomly bumping into one or two Tech Speakers. It was a globally recognizable brand of passionate, tech-savvy Mozillians.
After several years of growth, we realized that connecting remotely is one thing, but meeting in person is a totally different experience. That’s why the idea for Tech Speakers meetups was born. We’ve had three gatherings in the past four years: Berlin in 2016, Paris in 2018, and two events in 2019, in Amsterdam and Singapore to accommodate speakers on opposite sides of the globe.
The first Tech Speakers meetup in Berlin coincided with the 2016 View Source Conference, hosted by Mozilla. It was only one year after the program started, but we already had a few new cohorts trained and integrated into the group. During the Berlin meetup we gave short lightning talks in front of each other, and received feedback from our peers, as well as professional speaking coach Denise Graveline.
After the meetup ended, we joined the conference as volunteers, helping out in the registration desk, talking to attendees in the booths, and making the speakers feel welcome.
The second meetup took place two years later in Paris – hosted by Mozilla’s unique Paris office, looking literally like a palace. We participated in training workshops about Firefox Reality, IoT, WebAssembly, and Rust. We continued the approach of presenting lightning talks that were evaluated by experts in the web conference scene: Ada Rose Cannon, Jessica Rose, Vitaly Friedman, and Marc Thiele.
Mozilla hosted two meetups in 2019, before the 2020 pandemic put tech conferences and events on hold. The European tech speakers met in Amsterdam, while folks from Asia and the Pacific region met in Singapore.
The experts giving feedback for our Amsterdam lightning talks were Joe Nash, Kristina Schneider, Jessica Rose, and Jeremy Keith, with support from Havi Hoffman, and Ali Spivak as well. The workshops included Firefox DevTools and Web Speech API.
The Tech Speakers program was intended to help developers grow, and share their incredible knowledge with the rest of the world. We had various learning opportunities – from the first training to actually becoming a Tech Speaker. We had access to updates from Mozilla engineering staff talking about various technologies (Tech Briefings), or from experts outside of the company (Masterclasses), to monthly calls where we talked about our own lessons learned.
People shared links, usually tips about speaking, teaching and learning, and everything tech related in between.
Quite often we were speaking at local or not-for-profit conferences, organized by passionate people like us, and having those costs covered, Mozilla was being presented as the partner of such a conference, which benefited all parties involved.
It was a fair trade – we were extending the reach of Mozilla’s Developer Relations team significantly, always happy to do it in our free time, while the costs of such activities were relatively low. Since we were properly appreciated by the Tech Speakers staff, it felt really professional at all times and we were happy with the outcomes.
At its peak, there were more than a hundred Tech Speakers giving thousands of talks to tens of thousands of other developers around the world. Those activities were reported via a dedicated form, but writing trip reports was also a great way to summarize and memorialize our involvement in a given event.
In the last full year of the program, 2019, we had over 600 engagements (out of which about 14% were workshops, the rest – talks at conferences) from 143 active speakers across 47 countries. This summed up to a total of about 70 000 talk audience and 4 000 workshop audience. We were collectively fluent in over 50 of the world’s most common languages.
The life-changing experience
I reported on more than one hundred events I attended as a speaker, workshop lead, or booth staff – many of which wouldn’t have been possible without Mozilla’s support for the Tech Speakers program. Last year I was invited to attend a W3C workshop on Web games in Redmond, and without the travel and accommodation coverage I received from Mozilla, I’d have missed a huge opportunity.
At that particular event, I met Desigan Chinniah, who got me hooked on the concept of Web Monetization. I immediately went all in, and we quickly announced the Web Monetization category in the js13kGames competition, I was showcasing monetized games at MozFest Arcade in London, and later got awarded with the Grant for the Web. I don’t think it all would be possible without someone actually accepting my request to fly across the ocean to talk about an Indie perspective on Web games as a Tech Speaker.
Aside from the “work” part, Tech Speakers have become literally one big family, best friends for life, and welcome visitors in each other’s cities. This is stronger than anything a company can offer to their volunteers, for which I’m eternally grateful. Tech Speakers were, and always will be, a bunch of cool people doing stuff out of pure passion.
I’d like to thank Havi Hoffman most of all, as well as Dietrich Ayala, Jason Weathersby, Sandra Persing, Michael Ellis, Jean-Yves Perrier, Ali Spivak, István Flaki Szmozsánszky, Jessica Rose, and many others shaping the program over the years, and every single Tech Speaker who made this experience unforgettable.
I know I’ll be seeing you fine folks at conferences when the current global situation settles. We’ll be bumping casually into each other, remembering the good old days, and continuing to share our passions, present and talk about the Open Web. Much love, see you all around!